I've read and listened to anime reviewers rate the art and animation of a given title, and I'm not clear which is which, nor specifically what they refer to.

I imagine they're referring to the quality of the visuals, but I'm not sure if the backgrounds are the art, the characters the animation, vice versa, or if I've got it completely discombobulated. Is there more to the visuals than the characters and the backgrounds? Conversely, am I oversimplifying it?

Searching DDG yielded a mess since the terms were too generic.

3 Answers 3


I upvoted senshin's answer, but to possibly add a little clarity, here's my take on it.

"Art" refers to the visual design of a show: how the characters and backgrounds look; the use of color, lighting, and shading; the way shots are framed; the angles and use of artistic concepts like perspective, proportion, and depth.

"Animation" refers to the process of stacking up frames to create the illusion of movement.

Whether a show has good art is subjective. Bakemonogatari is believed by many to have good art, because it uses perspective, color, and shading in a unique way and has visually interesting character designs and backgrounds. Pokemon, on the other hand, has very functional art. It uses color and shading in simple, pedestrian ways. "Simple" and "pedestrian" are value judgments, though; Pokemon is made for children, who haven't typically had as much exposure to art, so to its target audience, Pokemon's art is fine.

Whether a show has good animation is not really subjective. We can judge animation according to how well it succeeds at creating the illusion of motion. Shows that reuse a lot of animation or have static backgrounds or characters that move in unnatural ways have bad animation. Whether the bad animation is a net negative for the show or not is a subjective judgment, but determining whether the animation is bad is pretty simple and objective. Speed Racer, for example, has bad animation, because it has fewer distinct frames, less motion, and reuses a lot of sequences as compared with shows like Eva, Akira, Fate/Zero, or Cowboy Bebop, which have good animation. This can be objectively determined; hypothetically, we could even write a computer vision system that could count these things for us and tell us whether a show has good animation or not. We can still love Speed Racer despite (or because of) its bad animation, but unlike with art, there's no "quality without a name" that can make the animation of two shows incomparable. We can always make technical, numerical comparisons between the animation of two shows.

These two things do interact somewhat. The level of detail that things are drawn with is part of the art. But if the level of detail drops in some frames, that affects the animation. And although Bakemonogatari's limited animation was not an intentional artistic choice (the production of the show was plagued by scheduling problems, and some episodes were barely finished in time for broadcast), we can imagine that a show might use limited animation as a deliberate artistic choice.

The cinematography is another place where art and animation interact. In an animated show, we can consider each individual frame as a piece of art. We could take a frame of an anime and hang it up in a museum between a Monet and a Gaugin, and consider it as a painting. But we can also consider a sequence of animation as film, and judge it on those merits. Cinematography is largely artistic, so again subjective. But a show that fails at creating the illusion of movement in a convincing way will have a hard time being regarded as a serious piece of film.

However, for the most part, when anime reviewers say "art", they mean the show's use of color, lighting, and shadow; level of detail on the characters and backgrounds; and possibly the way shots are framed. When they say "animation", the just mean "how well this show succeeds at creating the illusion of motion".

  • 2
    I quite like how you've characterized a show's animation as being about how good it is at creating the illusion of motion. I never thought about it that way, but that really is one of the things that makes drawn stuff fundamentally different from filmed stuff.
    – senshin
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 7:57
  • @senshin Thanks! Also, thanks for introducing me to The Tatami Galaxy in your answer. Its simple, almost cartoonish art style paired with very fluid animation does make for an illuminating contrast with the elaborate art style of Bakemonogatari.
    – Torisuda
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 8:51

Anime reviewers refer to “art” and “animation” separately. What does each one refer to?

While I imagine there's variance in how reviewers use words, I would think that most would choose to describe "art" as being still imagery (backgrounds, clothing design, static pans, color choices, etc.) and "animation" as being, well, animated imagery (character animation, CG, combat scenes, sakuga, and so forth).

Is there more to the visuals than the characters and the backgrounds? Conversely, am I oversimplifying it?

Dividing the visuals of an anime into "characters" and "backgrounds" is not all that wrong (though it raises the question of how one ought to characterize things like mechas and non-static background elements). But it's a fairly artificial distinction, and one that isn't too useful as part of a critique of an anime. There are still shots of characters (for example, when the camera pans over a character), and there are animated shots of characters (facial animation, walking motion, etc). Likewise, there are still shots of background details... but some backgrounds are animated, too. Take, for example, this segment from Nichijou.

The distinction between "art" and "animation", on the other hand, is, in some cases, a useful dichotomy: it is frequently the case that the people who do the animation for a show (keyframers, tweeners, and so forth) are different from the people who do static art assets like backgrounds (background artists, 3D modellers, etc.). As such, I think it makes some sense to evaluate the two separately.

It is probably often the case that the perceived "quality" of the art and animation of a given show are fairly well-correlated - a studio that hires or contracts skilled background artists will probably do the same with their keyframers, and a studio that hires bottom-barrel animators will probably hire bottom-barrel painters.

But sometimes, reviewers will observe a marked difference in the quality of the art vs the animation. Consider, as an example, Bakemonogatari (not the whole series; just Bakemonogatari itself). The animation in Bakemonogatari is frequently very limited (or, in the TV airing, absent altogether, replaced by screens of text instead). But the art is often remarkably elaborate.

And going the other way, The Tatami Galaxy has fairly mundane-looking art. But when you see it in motion, you might find that still screencaptures of the show don't suffice to convey how fluidly the show is animated in many of its shots. (The "mundane" art of The Tatami Galaxy is clearly an intentional artistic choice, unlike the limited animation of Bakemonogatari, which probably isn't. I've used it as an example anyway since I can't think of anything better off the top of my head.)

Bundling "art" and "animation" into a single category called, say, "visuals" loses some of the granularity that would allow a reviewer to discuss the ways in which Bakemonogatari succeeds with its art whereas The Tatami Galaxy fails, and vice versa regarding animation. So I guess that might be why critiquers of anime would choose to evaluate "art" and "animation" separately.

  • "The limited animation of bakemonogatari is probably not an artistic choice" [citation needed]
    – Vogel612
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 8:21
  • 3
    Well, I mean, there was a lot more animation in the BD version. That strongly suggests to me that logistical constraints were the main reason for the limited animation in the TV version.
    – senshin
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 8:23


The quality of work and visual glory, that we are basing upon.


The act of moving frames and motion.


That`s the way, I do things when I review anime on the website, I write on.

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